22. Lorena Garcia: Mentor to Miami Chefs

New Times' Best of Miami 2014 issue arrives June 19. To celebrate, Short Order is paying tribute to Miami's Culinary All-Stars. These people forged our city's food scene into what it is today -- a thriving amalgam of tastes and cultures. Through their insight and talent, they've given the city its own unique flavor and paved the way for bright new chefs and restaurateurs to follow their lead and take the Miami food scene into the future.

Most people know Lorena Garcia from either her Top Chef Masters appearance, in which she formed a close friendship with chef Art Smith, or her Taco Bell commercials, where the petite beauty makes fast food seem like an enticing, exotic meal.

But look beyond the television persona and you'll find a world-class chef and author whose goal is to uplift the Latin American community through food.

See also: Lorena Garcia Debuts Cookware Line on HSN, Mentors Local Chefs

The Johnson & Wales graduate literally toured the world in search of experience with gigs in kitchens in Italy, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Paris, and China before settling down in Miami, where she worked under Pascal Oudin at the Grand Bay Hotel, and then at Jeffrey Chodorow's China Grill.

In 2002, Garcia opened Food Cafe, then Elements Tierra, both in the then up-and-coming Design District. Garcia sold both restaurants in 2008 and in February 2011 opened Lorena Garcia Cocina at Miami International Airport. Her concept of providing weary travelers with healthy Latin cuisine grew with the opening of another branch at Atlanta International Airport and plans to open a third in the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in 2014. Fast becoming a food-on-the-go maven, Garcia recently was tapped as a consultant for HMS Host, a leader in providing dining experiences for airports and train stations, where she will bring her signature style to another concept, Lorena Garcia Tapas.

In addition to her television and culinary career, Garcia is the author of the book, Lorena Garcia's New Latin Classics: Fresh Ideas for Favorite Dishes, and is busy writing recipes for a second cookbook, scheduled to be released some time in 2015. Garcia also is a spokesperson for Colgate Total, saying "my palate is my most important tool."

What's most notable is the chef's commitment to giving back to her adopted community. Garcia frequently mentors up-and-coming chefs, including Giselle Pinto from Sugar Yummy Mama and Mr. Good Stuff's Alfredo Montero. She has also developed "Big Chef, Little Chef", a nonprofit that helps children and their families take control of their eating habits and their lives by conducting cooking classes at local schools and providing easy, healthy, and affordable recipes for families to follow.

With all these activities, Garcia still finds time to make her passions a reality. The chef is planning on opening a restaurant in Miami at the end of 2014/early 2015. The restaurant will focus on Garcia's vision of bringing the flavors of Latin America together -- with a nod to healthier eating.

Tasty Tidbit:

Before embarking on a culinary career, Garcia was an equestrian jumper with plans to be an attorney. Garcia competed in show jumping events, fearlessly clearing obstacles in her path -- sometimes so high her horse would have to crane its neck to clear the hurdle.

In Her Own Words:

"Miami really represents who I am as a chef. Growing up in Venezuela and then moving to the U.S., I was able to experience what brings us together and compile those experiences into my dishes."

Miami Food All-Stars

25. Dewey LoSasso

24. Mark Soyka

23. Jason Starkman

Let your voice be heard by voting in our Readers' Poll. Visit readerschoice.miaminewtimes.com by June 4. Then check out the 27th-annual Best of Miami issue, available online and in print Thursday, June 19, to see if your favorites won.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

Follow Short Order on Facebook, Twitter @Short_Order, and Instagram @ShortOrder.

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